Jerusalem Day: Selected Poems of Yehuda Amichai

02 Jun
Jerusalem is full of tired Jews,
always goaded on again for holidays, for memorial days,
like circus bears dancing on aching legs

Yesterday the city celebrated Jerusalem Day. Another Israeli national holiday that follows an already long list of holidays that run in quick succession over the course of the spring: Holocaust Memorial Day, National Memorial Day, Israeli Independence Day – each one more overtly political than then next, each ensuring that a founding element of the Zionistic narrative is entrenched into the Israeli psyche.

So yesterday the city thronged with flag-waving crowds, commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in June 1967. Yet Jerusalem, from my eyes, still remains a divided city – Jews in the West, Arabs in the East, with a million miles seperating their worlds; there is no unified Jerusalem.

While there are plenty of blog posts out there documenting the marches and the unpleasant racist/nationalist chants (Watch: Jerusalem Day’s racist march, escorted by police), I thought I’d rather share these two poems by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai that caught my eye (thanks to @JessicaMontell) and kind of sum up the sense of history in this frustrating yet enchanting city.

Jerusalem is Full of Tired Jews

Jerusalem is full of used Jews, worn out by history,                                                                                  Jews are secondhand, slightly damaged, at bargain prices.                                                                       And the eyes yearns toward Zion all the time. And all the eyes                                                                      of the living and the dead are cracked like eggs                                                                                           on the rim of the bowl, to make the city                                                                                                      puff up rich and fat.

Jerusalem is full of tired Jews,                                                                                                               always goaded on again for holidays, for memorial days,                                                                             like circus bears dancing on aching legs.

What does Jerusalem need? It doesn’t need a mayor,                                                                                    it needs a ringmaster, whip in hand,                                                                                                         who can tame prophecies, train prophets to gallop                                                                                 around and around in a circle, teach its stones to line up                                                                              in a bold, risky formation for the grand finale

Later they’ll jump back down again                                                                                                                to the sound of applause and wars.

And the eye yearns toward Zion, and weeps.

Ecology of Jerusalem

The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams                                                                       like the air over industrial cities.                                                                                                                    It’s hard to breathe.

And from time to time a new shipment of history arrives                                                                             and the houses and the towers are its packing materials.
Later these are discarded and pile up in dumps.

And sometimes candles arrive instead of people,                                                                                        and then it’s quiet.                                                                                                                                 And then sometimes people come instead of candles,                                                                               and then there’s noise.

And in enclosed gardens heavy with the jasmine                                                                                   foreign consulates,                                                                                                                                     like wicked brides that have been rejected,                                                                                                  lie in wait for their moment.


Posted by on June 2, 2011 in Jerusalem


Tags: , , , ,

2 responses to “Jerusalem Day: Selected Poems of Yehuda Amichai

  1. Laura

    June 3, 2011 at 4:39 am

    Great poems Thomas. I especially like the second one. I definitely had that feeling of finding it hard to breathe in Jerusalem, surrounded as you are by politics, religion and history. It’s pretty claustrophobic and bears down quite heavy on one’s shoulders! I hope you are enjoying yourself.

  2. Al

    June 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Aye aye Higinbotham,

    Poetry’s a bit of a mystery to me and I generally have no interest in reading any, but I liked being given the opportunity today to read some, because otherwise I wouldn’t have. You’ll make a cultured man of me yet…

    Thanks for another interesting post!

    By the way, I’ve been listening to the Finnish band Alamaailman Vasarat lately and thought you might find them quite interesting as, among the numerous musical styles they incorporate into their music, they lean heavily on metal and klezmer. I wrote something about them earlier this week on that blog I started a few months ago –

    Hope all’s well with you two.

    Bye for now,



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: